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We have gone beyond the point at which it is sufficient simply to alert the world to the dangers of climate change. We are now entering a crucial stage in the battle against global warming. We are now entering what leading scientific opinion calls the tipping point. In the most sensible part of the Secretary of State’s opening speech, he quite rightly referred to the window
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of opportunity that we now have to stabilise carbon in the atmosphere at 450 to 550 parts per million, but that window will close.

As several hon. Members have so clearly articulated this afternoon, unless we, the developed world, act decisively in the next few years significantly to reduce our carbon emissions, any future reduction may well be in vain because the carbon in the atmosphere will be sufficient to ensure the onset of the most extreme aspects of climate change. That is why this afternoon’s debate is so important and why it is so vital that the Government turn more of their words into action.

I do not doubt that the DEFRA Ministers are in earnest in their desire to tackle our nation’s carbon emissions, but the fact is that we in the UK are still emitting more carbon in 2006 than we were in 1997. I applaud the Government’s efforts to take a global leadership position on climate change, but that rings a little hollow when it is not matched by successful action at home. Taken in the round, and being honest, Labour’s record on climate change has been good, but in the face of such an enormous challenge, it is simply not good enough. We must see far greater urgency and a willingness to take decisions now.

The Conservative party, sadly, has the enforced luxury of opposition. Despite the turbulence on the Government Benches, sadly, we are not anticipating a general election anytime soon. So we Conservatives are taking time to study the problem carefully, to consult widely and to draw in Britain’s greatest experts, as well as to look abroad for inspiration, so that we are prepared and ready to hit the ground running when we take over the reins of government. However, Ministers are the Government; they have a very real responsibility to act now. Already too much time has been wasted on endless iterative consultations and short-term initiatives, some of which have merit; but in total, they have failed to produce sufficient cuts in carbon emissions, which we so desperately need to achieve. Such a commitment must be shared right across the Government, not just in DEFRA.

Personally, while speaking in the Committee that considered the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006, I frequently saw a willingness to be progressive and ambitious in DEFRA or in the DTI, but I constantly saw that undermined by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister or the Treasury. Perhaps there would be less resistance right across Whitehall if Ministers heeded the remarks of the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen), not just his praise for Mrs. Thatcher, but his plea for a renewed effort for a genuine cross-party consensus on climate change.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has said, tackling climate change is our social responsibility to the next generation; but, in politics, it is much easier to take the steps that will be painful if political parties work together, instead of just playing things for partisan advantage—and I am looking particularly at the Liberal Benches when I make those remarks. Therefore, although Conservative Members continue to hold the Government to account for their actions, or lack of action, with increasing vigour, we recognise that, with the politics of climate change, business as usual, as we understand it at Westminster, is not appropriate. Just as this House
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came together in the face of global terrorism, we need to come together with an equal degree of purpose to fight the greatest long-term challenge human kind faces this century.

There have been a host of thoughtful, well-judged and provocative contributions from both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Joan Walley) contributed to the debate at the outset, demonstrating her knowledge and immense personal expertise. My hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) made a thoughtful and well- informed contribution that demonstrated his expertise. He clearly stated that one does not have to be a fan of the euro, or want to sign up to a federal constitution, to see the need for an effective EU collective voice on the environment. My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge), who is a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, spoke with great expertise about the impact of climate change on his constituency. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) was quite right to say that we can all take individual actions to make a difference.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) spoke passionately about the importance of adaptation. Of course we can and must do more in that respect, but we must not lose our single most important focus on taking action now to avert the need to take adaptation measures later. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt), in a short, but pithy speech, was quite right to say that there is no excuse for the Government not to bring in a climate change Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne), in a speech in which he demonstrated great vision and ambition for further innovation, again impressed on the House the need for cross-party consensus. The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) came up with the excellent idea of showing Al Gore’s film in every secondary school in the UK. I wholeheartedly agree.

If this debate shows anything, it is not that the Government are moving in the wrong direction—there is much in the Government’s programme that we support—but simply that they are not moving fast enough or with sufficient urgency. Where are the big actions to back the big thinking? They were certainly not mentioned in the energy review, which turned out to be a rather timid and unambitious document. Where are the steps to make decentralised energy a reality? Where are the steps to turn energy efficiency from a small-scale incremental programme into an urgent and demanding national roll-out? Where are the measures to reform the remit of Ofgem to focus more directly on carbon emissions and not just price? Where are the measures to reform the renewables obligation, to move the share of funding for renewables beyond just onshore wind and landfill methane gas to the whole universe of exciting emerging technologies?

Where are the measures to deal responsibly with aviation? Where are the measures to allow progressive local councils, which can play a key role in reducing the carbon footprint of new UK housing and new-build commercial and industrial premises, to go faster and further in raising eco-standards than the Government are prepared to do nationally? Where are the measures to unleash in a truly meaningful way the green growth that we require to halt the brain drain of British talent
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and expertise in renewable technology—measures to underpin progressive business and stimulate new demand for sustainable technology? Where are the changes to stimulate green business opportunities and the measures to ensure that we are at the forefront of solutions to climate change, and do not just follow in the wake of our European partners?

This debate has covered a great deal of ground and given the Minister a great deal to respond to, but at its heart is one clear message, which comes from Members on the Benches all around him and which comes loud and clear from the Conservatives: we need a climate change Bill in the Queen’s Speech. We need a climate change Bill that will require Ministers to draw up plans to deliver the year-on-year cuts in CO2 emissions needed to prevent dangerous climate change; a climate change Bill that will require an annual report to Parliament on progress in meeting those targets; a climate change Bill that will keep emissions on track by requiring any Government falling behind the targets to improve policies and create new powers to monitor Ministers’ progress; and a climate change Bill that would also be an opportunity to make any regulatory changes required to begin reducing carbon emissions. If the Government are prepared to bring forth such a measure in November, they will not buy our silence, but they will gain our active and genuine support.

It is vital that we all face up to the threat of global warming with a sense of common purpose. However, we should continue to challenge each other across the Floor of the House to go further, faster and deeper in finding solutions to global warming. We are at the tipping point. Time is running out, but Conservative Members are optimistic that if we can find the will, time still remains to face down the challenge of climate change together.

5.45 pm

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): This has been an important debate and it has been evident from the speeches made that there is a lot of common ground. The Government certainly want to go further, faster and deeper.

The scientific evidence of climate change is overwhelming. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the debate about global warming is over. The only real questions as far as I am concerned are how quickly it is happening and what are we going to do about it.

The 10 warmest years in our history since records began have all occurred since 1990. In July, most parts of the UK experienced the hottest month that they had ever seen. Just last month was the warmest September in Birmingham since the 18th century. In 2003, the heat wave across Europe cost about 30,000 lives. The general consensus of scientific opinion is that if we do not tackle climate change, those temperatures will be the norm by 2050, and it might be the case that it will never get that cold during the summer by 2080.

The latest assessment of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, which is in the process of being revised, predicts that the average rise in temperature from 1990 levels will be between 1.4 and 5.8° C by the end of this century. Even at the bottom of that
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range—round about 2° C—it is likely that 95 per cent. of the great barrier reef will disappear and that millions of people will suffer flooding, most of whom will be in the developing world. It is clear that there is an urgent need to tackle climate change.

I welcome Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members’ acknowledgement of the role of the Prime Minister and the Government in trying to lead international opinion on developing a post-Kyoto consensus on climate change. I accept that we have a moral responsibility to lead on the matter and we are doing just that. Last week in Monterrey, Mexico, we helped to take the debate forward. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a major contribution there that followed on from our decision to put climate change at the top of our agenda during our presidencies of the G8 and the European Union. Key discussions took place at Monterrey.

The Stern review, which will be published shortly, will clearly show that the costs of dealing with climate change will be far less than those of dealing with its consequences. The International Energy Agency, with its international energy perspectives, shows that the technologies exist and can be developed for the future. The World Bank is showing through its plans for an energy investment framework that, if we have the political will globally, we can provide funding to ensure that low-carbon technologies are adopted throughout the developing world, which will be crucial if we are to move towards a low-carbon world.

Mr. Gummer: As lower-carbon technologies are available to deal with refrigeration and air conditioning, will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Government have allowed hydrofluorocarbon chillers to be put in the old Home Office and why they voted against the banning of HFCs in the European Union?

Ian Pearson: The right hon. Gentleman is very experienced in the ways of the House, and I am sure that he will find a way to ask that question directly of the Home Office. In July, we published new sustainable operational targets for the Government estate. We have said that we want the estate to be carbon-neutral by 2012—a major commitment—and we will press on with measures, including responding to the sustainable procurement taskforce, so that we lead the way in ensuring that public buildings become more carbon-neutral.

Colin Challen: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Ian Pearson: I was just about to refer to my hon. Friend as I returned to the subject of international climate change. My hon. Friend made a strong speech in which he emphasised the importance of the contraction and convergence model. The Government, too, are interested in that model. As he knows, there are a number of others around. What is clear is that, whatever model is chosen, we need to secure international agreement on a post-Kyoto international framework, so that other countries can make commitments and we have a long-term framework that is durable and fair to the developing world.

Colin Challen: Will my hon. Friend give way?

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Ian Pearson: I am afraid not. If I do, I will not have time to respond to the many other comments made during the debate.

This Government are one of the few currently on course to meet our Kyoto targets. In fact, we will almost double the reductions that we set through the Kyoto process. We have, with the climate change programme and the energy review, a range of policy measures that are setting us on a path towards reducing CO2 emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050. We need to do more, and I want to respond directly to a number of specific points made in the debate.

First, on the question of a Bill, I am sure that the House will not expect me to divulge what is or is not in the Queen’s Speech, but I can say that we are examining carefully the case for a statutory framework. We are having discussions about that and we are well aware of the strength of feeling of hon. Members and many of their constituents who have written to them on these issues.

The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) referred to the climate change levy and agreements. I know that he and his party are not in favour of the levy, but by the end of last year that measure had saved 16.5 million tonnes of carbon and it will go on to save approximately 3.5 million tonnes a year. It is an important part of tackling emissions.

In an important contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) mentioned clean coal and the importance of carbon capture and storage as a future technology. The International Energy Agency has highlighted that, and I think that it is key to the future. It will be vital for countries such as China and the United States, which will continue to burn fossil fuels. Making sure that they do that in a carbon-neutral way is crucial.

The shadow junior environment Minister said from a sedentary position that he thought the renewables obligation a waste of money. That is emphatically not the case. It has enabled us to take a great leap forward in renewable electricity generation, which has almost trebled since it was introduced. There are 16 GW of applications in process, with a further 11,500 MW in the planning system. If we reach our targets, that will equate to about 2.5 million tonnes of carbon a year. That is another example of the Government being serious and introducing policy initiatives that will make a difference in reducing our CO2 emissions.

Gregory Barker: We have not said that the renewables obligation is a complete failure, but we are strongly critical of the fact that the largest beneficiary of the RO, which is paid for out of every single electricity user’s bill, is not some innovative new technology, but landfill methane gas. The second largest beneficiary is onshore wind—a technology that, in Germany, is managed without any subsidy at all. A host of other technologies in their early stages are being starved of funding.

Ian Pearson: I am concerned about that intervention, because it does not show a commitment to the renewables obligation, or even a reformed version. In fact, it questions its basic existence, and that is not an acceptable or responsible policy position.

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Adaptation was the subject of a typically powerful contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris). I often discuss adaptation. In fact, I went to Kew gardens to speak about it, and about the fact that the English lawn is under threat as a result of climate change. He mentioned the UK climate impacts programme, which is an important initiative, and the adaptation policy framework that the Government are developing. We must adapt that framework more quickly. I agree that we need to do more research, although we are doing a great deal of research into the impacts of climate change and how we can adapt to it.

The role of local government in helping to reduce our carbon footprint has not been mentioned at all today. As some hon. Members will be aware, more than 150 local authorities have signed the Nottingham declaration, and are taking action on both mitigation and adaptation. My hon. Friend might like to look at the website, which includes a range of measures that can be undertaken on adaptation. That is an important contribution, but we need to do more.

Flood defence, as well as sustainable urban drainage, which has not been mentioned today, are important. Sustainable drainage and more effective land management are part of the innovative solutions that we need to develop as part of an adaptation framework. I accept that flood defence and flood risk management are vital for the future. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we have not cut the capital budget in the floods programme. I stress that we are spending 35 per cent. more in real terms on flood risk management than we were in 1996-97, and I have no doubt that that we will need to spend more in future. However, it is important to recognise the progress that we have made.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) mentioned deforestation. I agree that that is an important subject, albeit complex and difficult. There are some methodological problems, but the Government think that a market-based approach such as conservation credits is more likely to deliver. Turning to the built environment, may I remind the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) that we improved part L of the building regulations in 2002, 2005 and 2006? Homes are now 40 per cent. more energy efficient than they were just four years ago, but we have to do more, and we must progressively tighten up the regulations. The new planning policy statement on climate change that we want to introduce will be important in ensuring that we do more on the subject of the built environment.

Lastly, on recycling, we announced today that our annual targets had been met. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) mentioned recycling, which has nearly quadrupled since 1997. However, we need to double that rate—again, that is another area in which we need to do more.

Tomorrow’s climate is today’s challenge for Governments, the business community and each of us as individuals, because we are all in it together. We must work across boundaries—geographical, social and political—to secure an international agreement on a future framework to stabilise CO2 emissions which is robust and fair to developing countries.

It being Six o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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Conquest Hospital, Hastings

6 pm

Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): Shortly before the summer recess I presented a petition with 20,000 names concerning the Conquest hospital in Hastings, since when 7,000 people have marched the streets of Hastings and 20,000 more have signed a further petition, including many from the constituency of the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), whom I am pleased to see in the Chamber.

The petition of John Baker, the chairman of the Friends of the Conquest, and others

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